Complexity of dissolved organic matter in the molecular size dimension: insights from coupled size exclusion chromatography electrospray ionisation mass spectrometry†
This paper investigates the relationship between apparent size distribution and molecular complexity of dissolved organic matter from the natural environment. We used a high pressure size exclusion chromatography (HPSEC) method coupled to UV-Vis diode array detection (UV-DAD) and electrospray ionisation mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) in order to compare the apparent size of natural organic matter, determined by HPSEC-UV and the molecular mass determined online by ESI-MS. We found that there was a clear discrepancy between the two methods, and found evidence for an important pool of organic matter that has a strong UV absorbance and no ESI-MS signal. Contrary to some previous research, we found no evidence that apparently high molecular weight organic matter is constituted by aggregates of low molecular weight (<1000 Da) material. Furthermore, our results suggest that the majority of apparent size variability within the ESI ionisable pool of organic matter is due to secondary interaction and exclusion effects on the HPSEC column, and not true differences in hydrodynamic size or intermolecular aggregation.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Challenges in analysis of complex natural mixtures